Tuesday, August 7, 2012

All About 창원 (Changwon)

One thing I've found is generally the case here in Korea: folks are helpful and well-meaning but won't often give you all of the information you desire. When it comes to directions, laundry, or hey, even important information about your placement school and city, I've had to figure things out for myself.

I've written before about how cultural workshops are always hit-or-miss here at Orientation. Yesterday's workshop, cultural introductions to the ETAs' respective placement regions, was a miss. The reason why was obvious: in all of Southern Gyeongsang Province (경상남도) last year, there was only one ETA. Basically, nobody had ever been before, no one knew anything about any of the cities in it, and thus there was no information for Rachel (in Gimhae), Ryan (in Jinju), or me (in Changwon). The presentation I attended could have been titled, "Cool Stuff to do in Daegu and Busan (Sucks For You If You're Somewhere Else)".

That being the case, yesterday afternoon and evening I decided to do some sleuthing of my own. Thanks to Google and Naver (네이버, Korea's preferred search engine), I found out a lot about my city, and I'm proudly disseminating that information now.
Panorama of Changwon, from Wikipedia.
Changwon means "Bright Land". All Korean cities can be written with hanja, or Chinese characters, so I can tell my parents that 今年我住在昌原. 昌 means "sunlight", and 原 means "source or origin", so when I looked it up, I thought at first that my city was called the source of sunlight. It's rather poetic.

As it turns out, Changwon is not simply located in Southern Gyeongsang Province (慶尚南道 in hanja), but it is also the capital city of the province. It is the 9th most populous city in Korea (after Seoul, Incheon, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju, Ulsan, and Suwon), but probably only recently jumped into the top ten. I say this because today's Changwon was created when three smaller cities, Changwon, Jinhae, and Masan, merged in 2010, thereby tripling its population. The number is now a little under 1.1 million (compare to Philadelphia's 1.5 million in the city proper or Fremont's approximate 215,000).

After Wikipedia, I found Changwon's English website and plumbed its depths for photos and interesting random facts.
The Junam Wetlands, north of the city. Because we're in the south, this wildlife area becomes a huge destination for migratory birds in the winter. I can't wait to see them!
As a coastal city, it's famous for seafood. Local specialties include anglerfish (아구찜, agujjim), pufferfish, and Korean sushi, none of which I've ever tried but probably will. I might even try live octopus... Aside from seafood, I've heard that watermelons (수박... go figure?) and persimmons (감) are a regional favorite. Hooray! I wonder if Korean permissions are anything like Taiwanese persimmons...

NUBIJA bike terminal
Changwon calls itself "The Environmental Capital". One awesome perk is that it boasts the first public bike-rental program in Korea, called NUBIJA (which stands for Nearby Useful Bike, Interesting Joyful Attraction, I kid you not; but it's also a portmanteau of 누비다, nubida "to go here and there" and 자전거, jajeongeo "bicycle"). For a little less than $20 a year, you can check out any one of over 4,000 bikes from among 230 bike terminals in the city and ride it around for two hours. I like this a lot. I'm not an avid biker, but aside from being a fantastic carbon emissions-reducing initiative, it also seems like it'd be a fun way to see the city and local parks like the Junam Wetlands when I'm on my own or have friends visiting.

And here is a cute and ridiculous video that promotes the NUBIJA program.
I'm stoked that I'm moving to a city that's striving to be an example of eco-friendliness in Korea. On the other hand, Changwon is also a heavily industrial city. The original Changwon (pre-unification) was Korea's first planned city, re-envisioned in the 1970's to be the economic powerhouse of southern Korea (but it seems as if Busan has already taken that title?). So instead of beautiful beaches all along the coast, it's mostly ports, shipyards, and factories for companies like LG, Hyundai, and Samsung. The municipal organization is really interesting: the 대로, or Great Road, is a huge boulevard that stays perfectly straight for twelve kilometers. This road also acts as a boundary between the southern, factory-filled half of the city and the northern, residential-and-everything-else half. Take a look at this screenshot from Google maps:
The district of Changwon called Uichang, which was the original Changwon before it incorporated Masan and Jimhae. See all the blue roofs? Those are factories. The 대로 is highlighted in yellow. My schools is way up north, on top of a small hill.
So Changwon is more of a port city than a beach town. Still, the coast means milder, more temperate weather, at least compared to Seoul or Daegu. I'll still see all four seasons, and maybe even a typhoon or two.

What else? If I take the KTX, Korea's high-speed rail, I'm only 150 minutes away from Seoul. There are some universities downtown, which means I might have a chance to take Korean classes. As for a Hana Center where I can volunteer with North Korean defectors, I will probably have to travel to Busan in order to do that. Those are only found in larger cities. Lastly, some of Changwon's sister cities in the US include Houston, TX, Jacksonville, FL, and Jersey City, NJ.

I'll be reading up more on my city as time permits. I chanced upon the city's official WordPress blog, which is pretty cool and written in intelligible English. The posts alternate between random plugs for restaurants or kinds of foods to announcements on the latest renewable energy plan being put into action. Changwon seems to be very proud of itself as a quickly-developing city. The promotional video on their website says it all: "Changwon wants to become the best city in the world." Well, more power to them!

Anyway, that's enough for now. But you'll likely be hearing more about my city and my school in the weeks and months to come. The more I find out, the more excited I get about where I'm going!